Jerome Busam, of St. Clair Shores, suffered a stroke in December 2017. Here, he regains muscle control with the help of the Ekso GT exoskeleton technology and Henry Ford Macomb Hospital physical therapists Ron Angeles and Angeline Ellena.

Jerome Busam, of St. Clair Shores, suffered a stroke in December 2017. Here, he regains muscle control with the help of the Ekso GT exoskeleton technology and Henry Ford Macomb Hospital physical therapists Ron Angeles and Angeline Ellena.

Photo provided by Henry Ford Macomb Hospital


Exoskeleton improving muscle memory in rehab patients

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 26, 2018

 A view of the exoskeleton from floor level.

A view of the exoskeleton from floor level.

Photo provided by Henry Ford Macomb Hospital

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Last September, a donor expressed her generosity toward Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals in the form of the Ekso GT. Designed by Ekso Bionics, the wearable robotic exoskeleton is used for rehabilitation. The donation also included a four-year purchase plan, in terms of future repairs or possible replacement.

The state-of-the-art technology spurs the recovery process in patients who have suffered strokes, spinal cord injuries or other debilitating diseases that affect walking and general muscle memory, such as Parkinson’s disease. Along with getting wheelchair-dependent patients on their feet, the exoskeleton is also beneficial for neurological conditions that affect patients’ gait.

“Having a stroke is like your brain’s computer has crashed,” Henry Ford Macomb physical therapist Ron Angeles stated in a press release. “You forget how to do simple things. The Ekso GT technology is equivalent to rewriting the program in your brain that tells your body how to walk.”

Martin Beaulac, regional director of neurosciences and rehabilitation services at Henry Ford Macomb, described the Ekso GT as a “game changer,” adding that the donor’s device was one gift and the service agreement was another. Previously, the price tag was prohibitive for the hospital and not conducive to the hospital getting the most bang for its buck.

“This is new for us,” Beaulac said, comparing the device to the exoskeleton featured in the popular science fiction film “Avatar.” “It’s really new for most rehabilitation centers. This is not an inexpensive technology.”

He said Ekso Bionics has specific expectations when selling its device, which includes four-day training sessions with staff members, such as therapists. In turn, patients themselves have expressed a desire to learn alongside them, with 15 to 20 of them serving as trial patients.

Beaulac said training sessions usually involve multiple sessions, due to the existence of some limitations. For example, two trained therapists work with one patient — one works more with the upper body, while the other is on the floor helping the patients move their legs, stimulating the brain and its pathways to “remodel.” Not all therapists are able to work simultaneously due to scheduling, so independence in regard to the tech is being examined.

Similar to an aspiring athlete using muscle memory to improve skill and finesse, the same method of muscle memory is used to get patients on their feet in shorter periods of time. Anyone with weakness in one or multiple legs could theoretically benefit, Beaulac added, with the device working for approximately 90 percent of the general population.

He recalled a recent patient with a spinal cord injury who had trouble walking. The patient was paraparetic, or unable to use part of his lower extremities. After using the exoskeleton, he was able to employ a walker and be released from the hospital a mere three weeks later.

More training sessions are expected to occur in the coming weeks, with doctors, therapists and other staff members helping patients accomplish one major goal: getting them to relearn how to walk again.

“We are very anxious to make the public aware, but we wanted to make sure the staff had the skills to use the device correctly. … (It’s about) really creating a user group where we share knowledge back and forth to maximize the device and maximize the knowledge being gained from it,” Beaulac said.